Broadway Books began as venture between friends Gloria Dyer and Roberta Borg. In 1992, they left their respective jobs in publishing and borrowed money from friends and family to start “a great little store with great big service” in Northeast Portland, Oregon. They were its first employees, and to this day, the store is female-owned and predominantly female-run.
In the beginning, all its transactions were written by hand. Five years after opening, Broadway Books got its first computer. After another seven, Gloria and Roberta were able to pay back their loans. They used those initial investments to rent a warm cream-colored storefront with large windows, paint the interior spearmint green, install wooden bookshelves (not temporary plastic or metal shelving), and buy enough books to fill the space.
The nearly floor-to-ceiling windows allow for lots of natural light, so Broadway Books is pleasantly lit at any time of day. The front display showcases bestsellers like Brave Enough, Commonwealth, and Lincoln in the Bardo, along with staff favorites like Mink River and All the Light We Cannot See. Local chocolates and greeting cards are available near the front door. Most of the books for sale are new editions, but a local rare-bookseller curates a small selection of used books.
New customers often become familiar faces at monthly events hosted by Broadway Books. In addition to readings, local author Cheryl Strayed offers an exclusive service through their website: if a customer writes a note describing who the book is for and the occasion of the gift, Cheryl Strayed will personalize a copy of one of her books “in the spirit of the request.”
Online reviews of Broadway Books are affectionate and protective. One customer recounted coming into the shop early one morning and talking with the clerk about short-stories as he browsed through new titles. He concluded, “a conversation is a great way to buy a book.” Another added, “It is only by a pleasant surprise that a bookstore like this exists.”
Co-founders Gloria and Roberta retired from the book business years ago (though Gloria still comes in for a four hour shift each week), but Sally McPherson and Kim Bissell continue Broadway Books with the same appreciation for language and spirit of curiosity. As they note on their website, “We’ll never get rich this way. But we’ll never be bored.”
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